With the new decade upon us, I thought it would be good to take a look at the evolution IT accessibility over the past one.
Needless to say, a LOT has happened. There have been many things that have resulted in improvements, but some lingering challenges as well.
The Technical Standards and Regulations Landscape
While the adoption of WCAG 2.0 by the W3C was slightly before the beginning of the last decade (2008), its application as THE standard for web accessibility really began to take hold a bit later. In the US, WCAG 2.0 AA was finally adopted by the US Access Board for use in the refresh of US Section 508 (by reference), effective in early in 2017. While a long time coming, anticipation of its adoption for use as part of this federal procurement regulation had prompted some of the larger COTs product manufacturers and a few development services vendors to begin looking at, and in some cases trying to implement to these standards…or at least reporting compliance levels of their own products against these standards.
The ITIC VPAT reporting templates also changed in support of the new standards, spawning similar but different reporting templates for use beyond US federal procurement. One of the biggest improvements in the new templates, in my opinion, was the inclusion of the “Evaluation Methods Used” area of the manufacturer information block. That section completed (or not) greatly assists those who know how to read an accessibility conformance report (ACR) in ascertaining the credibility of the information that followed.
In Europe we saw the adoption of EN 301 549 which uses WCAG 2.1 as well as other criteria. The standard was adopted by The European Union (EU) Directive on the Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications.
In Ontario, Canada, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was adopted, which also contained regulations and standards for web accessibility, requiring all entities doing business in the province to make their websites accessible.
Other regulations for IT accessibility were also enacted around the world, but this blog post is not intended to be a comprehensive report on that. There are folks in the accessibility community who do track such things, so I will defer to their expertise on such matters.
Then, in mid-2019, came ISO 30071-1 another accessibility standard, but uniquely different from WCAG, US section 508, AODA and others. As stated in its abstract, ISO 30071- “… takes a holistic approach to the accessibility of information and communications technology (ICT) by combining guidance on implementing the accessibility of ICT systems (ICT accessibility) both at organizational and system development levels.” This is an extremely important distinction.
The Legal Landscape
In the past decade, the rise in IT accessibility complaints and lawsuits grew at a rapid pace, rising to a rate of 1 per hour as the decade ended. The lawsuits ranged in significance. The Domino’s pizza inaccessible website case made it all the way to the US Supreme Court, who upheld the lower court rulings in favor of the plaintiff. (the case is still ongoing, bounced back to the lower court post SCOTUS decision) There were other important rulings ranging from victories by plaintiffs on captioning in Higher Ed and on demand video entertainment, all the way to frivolous “drive by” lawsuits propagated by law firms that used web accessibility scan tool reports as a basis to file, with no actual person with a disability represented. Many of these have been dismissed).
The visibility of these accessibility lawsuits as well as numerous high visibility marketplace articles by legal folks and others raised awareness levels of the risks of inaccessible IT, bringing the issue into the mainstream. While some of the legal activity around this, such as the “drive bys” were likely more motivated by money than ethics, in totality, they have the industry sitting up and taking notice, which will hopefully result in more accessible IT, even if for no other reason than being a risk mitigator.
It should be noted, however, that not all court rulings have been in favor of the plaintiffs, depending on where these cases are heard, who hears them, and case specifics. One reason for this, at least in the US, is the lack of codified IT accessibility standards under the American’s with Disabilities Act that the courts can point to as law.
While the DoJ has publicly taken the position that websites are places of public accommodation, reinforcing this position when intervening in many of the complaints, its efforts to develop and codify IT accessibility technical standards and governance regulations into the ADA have thus far failed.
The DoJ began exploring what and how to implement such standards and regulations beginning in 2010 with an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRN). As part of this effort, responses to included questions were solicited from the public. Federal work groups were formed. Work progressed, and in 2016, a supplemental ANPRM was issued, with many more questions soliciting public response. Then in 2017, the SANPRM was place on the inactive list, effectively mothballing the DOJ efforts for IT Accessibility codification.
As it turns out, many legislators still have interest in federal accessibility standards to assist in litigation resolution, but to date, I am not aware of any bills or other activity that would indicate further effort.
The Technical Landscape
There has been significant progress in the technical arena regarding development, testing and training tools which now available for understanding and producing accessible IT. The creation of HTML5 and WAI ARIA, when well implemented, have mitigated many of the technical shortcomings of legacy development tools where IT accessibility features had to be reverse engineered, or even worse, remediated into IT offerings. Automated tools have become more plentiful, (yes there is now a competitive market for these!) more robust, and cheaper. Assistive technologies have become smarter, but more importantly, they are better integrated into mobile and desktop operating systems by the offering manufacturers, helping bring these end user tools to the people that need them at no additional cost.
Legacy products, however, continue to pose challenges even with the best intent of their manufacturer’s desire to make such products more accessible. Original code bases, sometimes a decade older or more, are problematic and possibly requiring total rewrites of product code to make them fully accessible. This is something that most manufacturers are reticent to do given the potential costs, technical risks, and backward compatibility support.
IT accessibility training has become more mainstream both online and classroom based. Still missing however; is the integration of IT accessibility courses into the relevant higher ed curriculums. Hopefully this gap will close as IT accessibility continues to increase its footprint. Additionally, we now have the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP), a body that provides certification in various areas of IT accessibility, as well as hosting webinars on a range of IT accessibility topics for its members and others.
The Policy and Governance Landscape
This area continues to be lacking across public and private sectors.
First, in private sector, with the exception of some of the larger publicly held corporations, the majority of companies around the world still lack any sort of cohesive IT accessibility policy. This continues to be a concern, as without an appropriate organization wide internal policy on IT accessibility, the odds of progress being made to improve the accessibility state of the IT offerings within these is low.
In public sector, the problem is a bit different. Many entities across all of the geographies and at all levels of government do have policies on IT accessibility, but for some reason fail to either implement governance criteria around the policies, or just escape its use, even when IT accessibility is mandated in standards and regulations. The result is failures in critical areas such as IT procurement and development which impact both the public, and the internal workforce.
It should be noted that such policy and governance gaps today can less attributed to technical and cost obstacles of decades past, but rather manifest due to organizational leadership and culture deficiencies. As a few examples:
- Lack of commitment by organizational leadership
- Lack of knowledge and awareness (yep. Even though IT accessibility had been pretty visible since before Y2K)
- Lack of Motivation – Don’t see the value, so why invest?
- Lack of integration into relevant processes organization wide
- Fear of financial or product competitiveness risks
- Lack of understanding of repercussions if IT accessibility issues arise
Sound familiar? But how can such inhibitors be addressed?
Announcing the 2nd Edition of Strategic IT Accessibility: Enabling the Organization – available in early February!
Some of you have read and used the original edition of my book. I received lots of kudos and positive feedback from people who used it to help implement IT accessibility programs around the world. Thank you all for the kind words, and I am delighted that the book was so useful.
But, as this blog post suggests, a there has been a lot change and progress in the area of IT accessibility over the past decade. This includes evolved thinking and experience. Therefore, I felt that a second edition was needed to encapsulate all of this for the benefit of the industry.
In this edition, I have added new information, tools, and approaches that can be used by folks at all levels of an organization…from C Suite to the test lab. Its still the only book of its kind with both strategic and practical information. And, like the 1st edition, it’s based on actual private and public sector operational experience, not theory.
It also includes a case study from ING Netherlands, contributed by my friend and colleague, Jake Abma.
The book will be available in early February in both paperback and eBooks formats at lulu.com (preferred) and well as other online booksellers. I will let you all know when it’s ready for purchase. In the meantime, I suggest you hold off on buying the original 2011 edition, which is still in circulation. The new one will have a red diagonal band that says “2nd Edition.” (see the cover image at the beginning of this section.)
Happy New Year! Let’s continue making the world a better place this decade, shall we?